Sunday, April 4, 2010

MTV's Summit on the Summit Documentary

Gives a bit of a glimpse to the mountain. Looks like they took a different route than we did. They do go to some of the same campsites we were at.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Becoming One with Nature and Conquering Kili

Reflections by Trekker Ruwe (aka Beth, Kate, and the latest "your friend")

Apologies if this is long, I plan to cover off on my experience from all 7 days on the mountain.

The night before our ascent, the reality of the adventure we were about to embark upon set in. At dinner we sat with two fellow climbers who shared their experience with us. One gentleman successfully made the summit, while the other was evacuated after day one (only making it to 3000m). After listening to both their stories I started to psyche myself out, wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, I was somewhat put to ease after talking to some of the hotel staffers (we were obsessed with everyone we met!). Said, one of our favorites, said he would pray for "his sisters" (He also told us how to say sister and brother in swahili - dada is sister & kaka is brother) to make it to the top and back. After dinner we retreated to our rooms. Falling asleep was a struggle, due to nerves and excitement, as well as the heat (no air conditioning, & the fan didn't work due to a power outage - common in Africa).

Day 1 of our climb, we woke up, ate a decent breakfast, and did last minute packing. By 8:30/9am we set off with our guides & porters to the Machame Gates (about a 45 drive from the hotel). It was a clear day and we could see the mountain perfectly in the distance. Upon arriving at the gates (altitude 1828m), we signed in, while the porters gathered our gear. Once we were all set, we began the ascent with our assistant guide, Siaman. He told us not to be afraid of the mountain, that it was "easy," to listen to our bodies, and think positively. I liked his outlook and decided to tune out the stories from dinner! We hiked about 10-12km (1200m) through the rain forest, on a rennovated path to the campsite. Siaman let us take the lead on the trail, and Tom eventually caught up to us. With myself in the lead, we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to catch our breath, and drink water (this is very important! And we may have taken this advice to an extreme). The last hour or two of the hike, as it became steeper, Tom decided to take the lead and pace us. We then learned the importance of going slowly (Pole Pole in swahili). Tom maintained a slow and steady pace, with a rhythm in his step. Finally, we reached the Machame huts, our campsite for night 1 (3032m). We signed in and found our tents. The rest of the evening was spent, relaxing, enjoying tea time, eating dinner, and then off to bed. It dawned on me that this is the first time I have ever camped out, and I enjoyed it. It was also amazing to see a sky full of stars - you don't see that often in the city!

The next morning we set off for Shira camp. The sun was out and it was looking to be a
nice day to hike (March is typically low season because of rain). Kibo Peak, and Mt. Meru were in clear view, making for some great pictures. The plan for the day was a 4 hour hike/climb up a steep, rocky terrain. Tom led the way, and even stopped to point out snap some good picture. At one point we stopped at this rocky area for a break. Tom suggested a picture at the top of
the ledge. I quickly was reminded of my fear of heights and opted to stay put on my rock. There were many times when I thought my clumsiness, one wrong foot, and I'm going over this ledge. Not sure what I was thinking when I booked this trip. I obviously survived, and maybe overcame my fear a bit. After the break we trekked on. The vegetation began to diminish as we climbed higher. We finally made it to Shira camp (3847m) in time for lunch, and we also beat
the rain. I took a little nap, while Erika read. Our evening at camp was similar to the night before, signing in, tea time, dinner, briefing with Tom, and sleeping. We did manage to see a nice sunset.

Tom and the books warned that day 3 would be a long day, and they were right. We
both suffered from headaches along the way. It was approximately a 6hr hike, but Erika and myself were pole pole, so it took us closer to 7hrs. The plan for the day was to climb to 4600m to Lava Rock (pictured),
where we would stop for lunch, then trek down hill to the Barranco camp at 3985m. To better acclimate, it is better to climb high and sleep low. Hence, going downhill to camp. The downhill portion of the climb was a little tough on the knees and my ankle. I was relieved when we finally arrived at camp. Upon arrival we washed up, changed clothes and prepared for tea time and dinner. After dinner, the clouds were shifting and
we were able to get a couple of good shots of our goal. We also made a new friend from Denmark at this campsite. He has was pretty entertaining and liked to drop the f bomb. He even renamed the Barranco wall that we would be tackling the next day.

The next morning, we were awakened to begin our 3-4
hr climb up the Barranco Wall to the Karanga Campsite (3940m). I woke up feeling nauseous and weak, a bit worried about being evacuated if I got sick. Apparently, it is common to feel this way and there wasn't much cause for concern. I forced myself to eat breakfast and drink some water. Tom and Siaman preached to us from day 1 the importance of drinking plenty of water and getting enough food. I felt a little better after breakfast, but not 100% (as Siaman would say). We finally set off to tackle the rock wall. This was a bit challenging considering how I felt that morning, and my fear of heights. There were a couple of points, where I was like one wrong step and I'm falling off this mountain. Erika said she really enjoyed this part of the climb. Looking back now, it was pretty fun! At the top of the wall we had a great view of Peak! We stopped for a short break and took in the sight! We then continued on to Karanga camp, where we settled in for the night. Had we not added an extra day for acclimatization, we would have continued to Barafu camp post lunch. I'm glad we took the extra day and settled, it allowed us to take the remainder of the afternoon to rest. I took the best nap. Also, that night was one of the best nights of sleep for me.

Waking up the next morning, I felt better, back to 100%. I think all the sleep helped, as well as eating and drinking plenty of water. We packed up and set off for another 3-4 hour hike. Upon arriving to the Barafu Huts (4681m), Tom was pointing out climbers who were coming down from the summit. We were almost to our goal. We arrived to camp at about noon. We were encouraged to rest between meals since we would begin our summit at 11:30pm that evening. We packed our bag, put on our summit clothes and tried to go to sleep after dinner, only to be woken by an angry, rude, German climber. Of course, his tent was right next to ours, so we had to listen to his ridiculousness. Erika popped her head out once to give the stink eye. I then popped out and told him to quiet down....didn't really help. Then it started to thunder and lightning. Every time the thunder roared the mountain shook a little. The lightning had me a little worried, wondering if we would still be able to summit. Eventually, I fell asleep to the rain (snow).

Finally, we were woken up for the big summit! The rain and thunder had stopped and it was dark out. Neither Erika nor I had flashlights or head torches. We both managed to overlook this piece of suggested equipment. Fortunately, Erika had a book light and I had my ipod to provide a source of light. I have to wonder what Tom was thinking when he saw me
coming from the toilets using my ipod as light. He flashed his head torch towards me, and directed me to the dining tent. We had a cup of tea and set off. Not having a head torch wasn't a hindrance, we were able to see the path using Tom and Siamans'. Tom led with a steady, slow, and rhythmic pace. We closely followed, with Siaman bringing up the rear. The route to Stella Point is a zig zagged 6 hour trail. It was a challenging climb, as we both felt weak at certain points and rest breaks were discouraged (better to keep your muscles moving). My head was pounding during the summit. We finally reached Stella Point (5752m), where we took a short break. From here, its another 45 minutes to Uhuru Peak (5895m). We witnessed the sun setting while hiking from Stella to Uhuru. It was another clear and beautiful day (we really lucked out with weather). Those last 45 minutes were tough for me, my feet were dragging, but with the groups encouragement I pushed through and we finally made it to Uhuru. It
was a very satisfying feeling, though at the same time I felt a bit delirious. The views from the top were amazing! We snapped pictures and were quickly rushed back down the mountain. It took us about 2-3 hours to go down through the scree. Again, my knees are not a fan of downhill! Our campsite was like a seemed so close, yet so far away. I was exhausted, but felt a bit high from what we just accomplished. We tried to take a quick nap before lunch, yet it was tough to sleep with the excitement of our success.

After lunch we began our descent down the Mwenka trail. It was supposed to be a 3-4 hour hike down. Erika and I were now the guides down hill, leading the way and pointing out sites Tom and Siaman. We crossed paths with another group of Americans on the way down. Turns out Tom trained their guide, Bruce. We also learned he has trained several other guides, and has been a guide for 10 years. The fastest he made up and down mountain was in 15hrs. We dubbed Tom and Siaman the "Kings of the Mountain."

Aside from my knees and ankles hurting, I enjoyed the last 2-3 hours to the Mwenka camp. We were walking in what appeared to be a creek at some point. It was kind of muddy/rocky terrain, and vegetation was starting to make an appearance. I managed to slip in the mud about 5 times. Too bad Erika didn't have her camera out for one of those falls. I imagine it was a pretty funny site! We finally made it to the campsite. Our cook, Saleem, made us a traditional Chagga Tribe meal. Siaman revealed to us that he comes from the Chagga tribe. It was a spicy beef stew dish that had bananas. And it was very good. I would love to try it again sometime. After dinner, I quickly fell into a sound sleep.

We woke early the next day to complete the final 3 hour descent. On the way down, we learned that many of the trees are Cedar trees or in the Cedar Family (CF as Siaman said). He also explained that the moss growing on the trees keep them warm. You can tell which way the wind blows based on how the moss grows. Once reaching the Mwenka Gates, we were greeted by several street vendors selling Kili t-shirts, paintings, bracelets, beer, coke, and shoe cleaners. We signed our final book and received our certificate!

It was an unbelievable experience, challenging both mentally and physically! While on the mountain, Erika said she wanted to climb every route. At the time I wasn't as gung ho on the idea. However, days later, while on the safari I found I missed the mountain. I, too, would like to go back and experience the Kili again. Tom and Siaman were great guides, and I was extremely pleased with the organization of Zara!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greetings from Moshi, Tanzania!!!

Beth and I made it safely to Moshi and, in about 13 hours will begin our ascent of Kilimanjaro! We spent most of Saturday touring around London and actually decided to "pump ourselves up" for the hike by catching We Will Rock you (a musical based on Queens' music). Both Beth & I were pleasantly surprised within how much we enjoyed it, especially since it kicked off with a sci-fi twist and was based in 2325. We both wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, but ended on our feet when Bohemian Rhapsody closed out the show. We rushed back to our hotel to catch the tube to LHR - only to be met with madness in the Virgin Airline check-in area. Numerous flights were departing and I was quite convinced our flight to Nairobi was going to be the trip to hell. We were pleasantly surprised when we boarded our plane to know pretty much everyone had seats/rows to themselves, which made the 9 hour flight a bit more enjoyable. The only complaint would have to be the couple that was directly behind me made out for the first 1.5 hours of the trip and then continued to do so as soon as they finished breakfast the following morning. Even the sound of a jet plane can't cover loud smoochers.

We made it through Kenyan customs with no issues, despite the warnings of corruption at the Visa desk and luggage handlers trying to swipe your bags. We caught a taxi to our hotel, which was in the Nairobi city centre and hit our only occurrences of "scamming" while there. We paid our taxi driver at the airport (via a government official) and upon arrival at the hotel, he attempted to receive payment again. Fortunately, Beth was on the top of her game and was able to "gently" reminder him that we already had done so. When we entered the hotel, we were a little baffled to see a metal detector at the entrance .. but even more so when we were able to push our luggage over the side without being scanned and to continue walking through even if the detector went off. Guess the pure presence could deter would-be thieves ...

We spent the day in Nairobi being tourists. Enjoyed the Nairobi Railway Museum and walked around, visiting City Hall, Parliament as well as the Memorial Gardens from when the US Embassy was bombed, killing over 250 Kenyans. As guide books suggested we head home before dusk, Beth & I decided to enjoy a dinner at the hotel - and a few grown-up cocktails as well. Between the Fulham/Man U game and then the Irish music that was playing afterwards, we called it a night relatively early in preparation for the big hike.

Riverside Shuttle picked up us up at the hotel at 7:30, which left us no time for breakfast before our departure. We picked up several other passengers on our way, including a group from the UK and Canada as well as several natives. While waiting at the second pick-up point, we considered grabbing a snack before we left - but never actually picked up anything as we were concerned the shuttle would leave us. Instead, we were able to entertain ourselves with the one British woman being continually hassled to purchase various goods ... and after saying repeatedly she had no cash, finally succumbed to have them leave. Occurred multiple times, by multiple street vendors - which kept the rest of the shuttle safe from hagglers.

We left a little after 8:15 and didn't stop until 1:00, which - in hindsight - was a good thing we didn't get any breakfast/liquids. We drove through several Kenyan villages and side-roads (detours off the SMOOTH highways ... and on dirt roads ... bumpy & dusty in open windows), arriving at the boarderound 1:30. The actual crossing of the border was very simple, especially since we had picked up the visas in the UK. Continued through the mountains of Tanzania, arriving in Arushi around 3:00 and Moshi around 4:30. I have lots of pictures to share, but since we're limited on the Internet time, just thought I'd provide the high-level details now. More to come, don't you fret!!!!

Check-in went smoothly, and we met with our guide (TOM) at 5:00 to debrief about the plan for this evening & tomorrow. Kate & I have already packed (6:45 PM here) and are killing some down-time before dinner at 7:30. Breakfast starts at 6:30 AM tomorrow and we need to be ready to leave by 8:00 (bus departure at 8:30). We still have a few things to rent from the equipment store but other than than that, we're re-hydrating, resting and getting excited for the 7-day climb that starts tomorrow. We'll be back with an update on Tuesday, March 22 - so until then, hold tight! Thanks again for everyone's support on this; it means the world to us!!!

Signing off from Tanzania,


Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm platinum biatch ...

Well, ladies and gentle-folk ... we're sitting here with a 45 minute iBAHN internet card and a sticky european keyboard. Hold on, wait a minute .... don't stop, 'til you get it, get it ...

Okay. Back to life, back to reality. We're giving you the DL from London ... and what a journey it has been. To start, Kate/Beth made to NYC on Tuesday evening and I followed soon after on Wednesday am (just to miss the underwear bomber). I (erika) met Kate (Beth) and the real Kate in Brooklyn (you guys don't know her - I didn't either) to kill some time. We spent 3 hours at the Strand, the greatest bookstore ever, and then spent the rest of our tenure in NYC wandering in a circle for passport pictures to get our Tanzanian visas. Don't worry - there's always "one on the corner" of broadway and canal).

We finally found the sketchiest vendor in all of NYC after walking from Brooklyn to Manhatten. As one co-author found out, the other co-author looked like a meth-head. Little did the meth-head know, you can't smile, wear glasses or earrings during picture time. (Note to all you followers: Ask to see her Tanzanian visa).

Reunited again, with nothing to do but catch a flight ... the authors decided to visit a zebra bar (BIG surprise!). We were brainstorming HOW we could get our hands on Rupleminz - to no avail (To date: We've tried 10 venues - no such luck). We pulled it together and boarded our flight (VS10). As we were ansty during our flight, we mingled around (like LAUREN!!) and went to first-class. Little did we know, we met our first celebrity of our trip - to be discussed later ....

Arrival in London was nothing to talk about; the Heathrow Express was broken ... no bodies on it --- but just wasn't working (welcome to the UK). We arrived, ate some Indian, took a nap ... and prepared for an evening in London. Ventured to Piccadilly and picked up half-price tickets for Billy Elliot. Headed east to Leicester Square, only to see our new boyfriend, Gerard Butler (see our PICS!!! If he looks tired, we know - but he looked like shit on the flight). Jennifer Aniston was jealous, but she got over it.

We had to leave them alone, as Billy was calling our names - as were a few glasses of wine. Brilliant show; Kate/Beth has now decided (again) that she's going to take up tap dancing. Anyone need a date??? Erika will continue on karoake (thanks, mom).

Erika took Kate/Beth down memory lane, only leaving her twice (in pure excitement) to catch the tube before it left. Had a drink at the Malt House. Unfortunately, Frannie was not there, but we enjoyed our drinks regardless.

Bright eyed and bushy-tailed is how Americans rise in Britain! Yeah. Not so much. We headed to the Tanzania house to turn in our mug shot (ask to see pictures) only to be told it'd be rushed (/not happening) for a 4 hour turn-around. Luckily, Kate looked really pretty in her passport show (see above), so he expedited our visas. That - plus some cash. This is Africa (TIA - that's for you, real Kate). In all honesty, we'd love to give a shout-out to the attendant at the Tanzania House. Thanks for processing our visas so quickly!

NOTE TO ANYONE GOING TO TANZANIA: Get your visa in advance.

In celebration of getting our visas, we ventured off to explore London. Portobello Market called; we saw great art, antiques and - of course - a watering hole or two. Sad to say, Erika did NOT purchase the art she's been pining after for four years - but there's always another time. As for Beth, she went to a "resting point (Kristi - you know this one)" - only to discover it's the London version of Stadium Bar & Grill.

You all thought the excitement stopped there, didn't you? NOPE! Headed to Reading, England, to see some of Erika's co-workers. Some things never change ... but you also learn new games. Pass the keyboard. Type a sentence. Repeat.

(Kristi: How were your messages??)

We started a new game on the way back. Erika knew her way around Reading/London ... and Kate/Beth decided she did too. Erika said "fine" ... you lead the way. Worked fine and dandy until Erika couldn't get into the tube (FYI: The 13th time she was denied today - again, we have pictures). Erika met "assistance" again, only to see the blind NOT leading the blind. After finding alternative routes (due to bodies on the track), the twinsies made it back to Kensington.

Ladies & Gentleman ... keep your eyes peeled, because things are starting to light up!!!!

Signing off at 1:30AM (your happy hour). Stalk you soon!


Monday, March 8, 2010

The countdown has begun ...

The countdown has begun … only three more days until the trip of a lifetime! Tons of progress has been made since the last post (clearly – that was months ago), but nothing seemed worthwhile of your reading … so here we are now! Kate/Beth & I are booked and ready to roll. Itinerary as of now:

-Wednesday, March 10: Depart Chicago/Cincinnati --- JFK. Depart JFK at 10:25
-Thursday, March 11: Arrive in London
-Friday, March 12: London
-Saturday, March 13: London. Depart for Nairobi at 9:20
-Sunday, March 14: Arrive in Nairobi. Day in Nairobi.
-Monday, March 15: Depart Nairobi to Moshi (Tanzania)
-Tuesday, March 16: Begin the ascent of Kili.
-Wednesday, March 17: Kili (2)
-Thursday, March 18: Kili (3)
-Friday, March 19: Kili (4)
-Saturday, March 20: Kili (5)
-Sunday, March 21: Kili (6)
-Monday, March 22: Kili (7). Return to Base Camp/Springland Hotels overnight.
-Tuesday, March 23: Lake Manyara National Park Safari
-Wednesday, March 24: Ngorongoro Crater tour
-Thursday, March 25: Jungle Walk/Lake Chalu; Depart for Nairobi via shuttle
-Friday, March 26: Depart Nairobi 12:50/Arrive London.
-Saturday, March 27: Depart London (9:00)/Arrive JFK/Cincinnati/Chicago

A few changes were made due to flight issues, so we’re actually bypassing Zanzibar this time … and spending more time in the Tanzanian countryside. If only we took more time off work (!) and spent a bit of time here, we’d really get to do everything we wanted. If I had to do it again – or if I take the trip again – I’d definitely fly directly to Kilimanjaro (JRO) to cut down on some of the travel time to/from Nairobi … which would allow a lot more flexibility in our schedule.
Planning for the trip? Exciting, tedious and overwhelming at best. Shots all around … and no, not the ones that you typically associate with me:

-Yellow Fever
-Hepatitis A

Medicines? Of course. I’ve got Diamox, which will hopefully prevent me from succumbing to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I’ve got diarrhea meds, both prescription and over the counter … but don’t worry, I’m supposed to bring a laxative too. Maybe that isn’t mud on the mountain after all …

Malaria meds? Check. Taking them from 2 days before the trip and 30 days after. Had the option of the meds that provoke hallucinations and bypassed them for the ones with a side effect of sun sensitivity. Hello? Have they seen me? I’m a redhead with freckles. Already got that one covered!

QT at Dick’s Sporting Goods
Has anyone spent a lengthy amount of time in the hiking section at Dick’s Sporting Goods? Let me tell you, while it seems like a fun time, I used the term “fun” loosely. I spent about 4 hours there last Saturday, which really allowed me to catch up on the Olympics (yep – still no cable at 120 Garfield Place) and then returned to Dick’s again this Saturday to pick up more of what I didn’t have. The bonus this time was that I didn’t have to spend 4 hours there since I already knew the layout of the land (cut it back to 1.5 this week). Fortunately, I was able to spend the rest of the afternoon scouring Walgreen’s for all the necessities for the trip. By the end of it, I had racked up a significant chunk of money and had 3 full bags of toiletries when I arrived home. I’m a walking pharmacy now … prepared for almost anything!

The Actual Climb!
We begin the actual climb on Tuesday, March 16 and are climbing with Zara Tours:

Beth had friends who have done this climb before and the individuals we have been in contact with seem extremely helpful and knowledgeable. The group has also gotten rave reviews in various Tanzania/Kili books – so we’re looking forward to our trek. Before and after our hike, we’ll be staying at the Springland Hotel in Moshi, which looks like a fantastic place to relax and recover after the grueling 7-day hike:

We'll spend Tuesday afternoon at the hotel for some R&R before leaving on our two day safari:

We’ll return from that and have a free morning on Thursday before departing for Nairobi and our return to the USA.

I’ll update the blog as time and connectivity permits in London, Nairobi and Moshi, but expect an update as soon as we arrive back to camp on the 22nd. I’m looking forward to a fantastic trip and am thankful for everyone’s support and well wishes as we embark. Talk to you all soon!